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Study says physician workforce will need to add 52,000 PCPs by 2025


As the dust finally settles following yet another whirlwind election season, the contours of healthcare’s future are becoming clearer — the Affordable Care Act (ACA), to a certain extent, will be one industry fixture moving forward, and the ballooning aging population will not deflate now or anytime soon. With these prophetic elements aligning, a corresponding fact rises to meet them — we will be needing a lot more primary care physicians to make it down the road.

According to new research published in the November/ December edition of the Annals of Family Medicine, the United States will need 52,000 additional primary care docs by 2025. Researchers approximate that the current PCP workforce will need to expand by 3 percent between 2010 and 2025 to accommodate the morphing needs of the nation. Moreover, office visits are expected to increase from 462 million in 2008 to 565 million in 2025.

The study attributed population growth, population aging and insurance expansion as the three major drivers comprising the bulk of the 52,000 doctors to be demanded.

Click to enlarge.

All data and information from the “Projecting U.S. Primary Care Physician Workforce Needs: 2010-2025” report. Presentation by PhysBizTech.

Researchers were quick to note that while some areas will handle the influx in demand and volume with gusto and mostly unfaltering efficiency, others won’t be so lucky and may fall prey to the effects of maldistribution. Furthermore, despite efforts put forth by ACA policymakers to fight the impending shortage — a one-time investment of $168 million to ramp up the number of medical school graduates opting for PCP residency programs, a $75 million allocation to train physician assistants and nursing practitioners, and $11 billion invested in community health center expansion/repair over the next five years — more action still is required.

“In areas with adequate primary care physician workforce, the projected increase in utilization may be met with increases in productivity,” the study authors wrote. “Given current maldistribution, however, we cannot expect increased demand to be met by increased productivity universally. Capacity building thus requires both immediate and long-term attention to deliver on the ACA’s promise of better, more affordable, and more accessible care.”

While experts continue to contend over the supposed severity and existence of a shortage, the authors of the latest study were adamant that cries for more bodies in the physician workforce are well founded.

"Regardless, as insurance expands, use of primary care physicians will change, raising concerns about the adequacy of the current workforce," they wrote.  

Analysts expect that additonal study will be done on shortage matters once ACA and state intentions become more concrete.

“Projecting use under various scenarios informs a larger assessment of workforce demand and supply. Further analysis is needed regarding the supply of primary care physicians adjusting for physicians entering and leaving primary care. Research and guidance regarding the appropriate response of graduate medical education will be critical to ensuring that the workforce can meet the projected increases in utilization. More research is required on the association between workforce ratios of primary care physicians per population that would minimize costs and improve quality. It will also be important to understand where the uninsured are located and where access is limited,” the study concluded.

Find the full study “Projecting U.S. Primary Care Physician Workforce Needs: 2010-2025,” here.